It wasn’t a vintage performance by any means but it was still more than good enough to ease Arsenal past a poor Crystal Palace side on Sunday.
The Gunners were in near absolute control for the vast majority of the match, with the Eagles only looking a threat for fleeting periods in either half.
Whether the real paucity of cohesive or quality play from the visitors was in some way to blame for a feeling of underperformance from Arsene Wenger’s side is certainly possible, as they were seldom forced to shift out of third gear.
And, in truth, perhaps that was a good thing, particularly as the need to keep the win tally ticking remained as pressing as ever and confidence is a commodity hard earned and easily lost in this day and age.
The team certainly seemed to build on the win over West Bromwich Albion in any case, with a bit more sharpness and intensity in the way they set about their opponents.
The Palace line-up boasted a wealth of Premier League experience, with a smattering of genuine quality that really belied their lowly position, so it was good to see their threat almost entirely smothered in midfield.
I can’t remember Sam Allardyce’s side having a single effort of real note in the opening half, though clear-cut chances were at a bit of a premium for Arsenal too.
Ultimately, the first period will be remembered for a quite sublime piece of quick-thinking and skill from Olivier Giroud, who turned an over-hit, off-target cross into a goal using the greatest piece of skill the Frenchman is ever likely to pull off in his career.
To think that he will never score a better goal must be a little sad for Giroud but, at the same time, it is a goal that will be remembered for decades to come by all who saw it. It was a goal worthy of winning any game and an effort greeted by a collective ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ from the Emirates crowd, who appreciated in full the greatness of what they had witnessed.
In the unlikely event that you missed the goal, enjoy it over and again here:
There was no way Palace were going to be quite so bad in the second half as they were in the first and, unsurprisingly, they emerged after the break with a few more tricks up their sleeve.
In fact, it took some alert work from Petr Cech and some real last-ditch defending to prevent the hitherto anonymous Christian Benteke from nodding the Eagles level as the visitors finally decided to make use of their big Belgian in attack.
The only real flaw in Arsenal’s first half was only having a single goal to show for their efforts so getting through Palace’s purple patch unscathed was absolutely vital and, despite a few jitters, they eventually did just that, albeit requiring a few substitutions.
The Gunners were beginning to do the same sort of self-destructive things they had done against both Everton and Manchester City – primarily giving the ball away carelessly – and so a change in approach was sorely needed to reassert control.
Fortunately, the move seemed to work and the match was all but put beyond Palace by Alex Iwobi, whose headed effort looped over both goalkeeper and two covering defenders to get over the line. The Nigerian seemed as surprised as any that his speculative effort had managed to effort Palace’s rearguard.
In fairness to the youngster, he was sharp and purposeful throughout the match, particularly as I suspected he may have been the one to make way for someone a little more solid against a pacey Palace attack.
Arsenal saw out the remaining 20 minutes or so in relative comfort, creating a few half-decent chances while working hard to preserve their clean sheet – a second shut out in as many games.
The only point of concern by the time the final whistle sounded was the forlorn figure of Alexis Sanchez, who seems to have developed a streak of impatience in the last month or so, particularly since talk of his contract negotiations emerged.
Whether it is because he has been moved back to the wing, where he has found it a little harder to score, or whether he simply wants to win every match by the widest margin possible in unclear, but he has on a few occasions thrown his hands up in frustration when chances have gone begging, even with victory assured.
Perhaps his desire for goals and wins is so great and he demands the same from his team mates, or perhaps there is something more going on. It will be interesting to keep an eye on this as the weeks go by.
When all is said and done, Arsenal badly needed two wins over Christmas and they have achieved that. Unfortunately, given the good form of everybody else in the league, the wins haven’t had the impact we may have hoped in making up the lost ground but it was important we kept the pressure up nonetheless.
There are some real winnable fixtures coming up in the next fortnight so fingers crossed we can keep it going!